Central Africa Imposes Emergency as Rebels Ring Capital
Friday, January 22, 2021
Incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic on January 18, 2021.
Florent Vergnes | AFP
The Central African Republic on Thursday announced a 15-day emergency as armed groups tried to blockade the capital, Bangui, in a bid to topple newly re-elected President Faustin-Archange Touadera.
Thursday's declaration came hours after the United Nations envoy to the country called on the Security Council to agree a "substantial increase" in the number of peacekeepers deployed there in response to deadly violence.
Rebels controlling about two thirds of the perennially volatile nation launched an offensive a week before presidential elections on December 27, trying to blockade Bangui and carrying out several attacks on key national highways.
Now "the state of emergency has been proclaimed across the national territory for 15 days, starting from midnight (2300 GMT)," presidential spokesman Albert Yaloke Mokpeme said over national radio.
He told AFP the state of emergency would also allow authorities "to make arrests without going through national prosecutors".
Touadera was declared re-elected by the constitutional court on Monday, though two voters out of three did not cast their ballot, mainly due to insecurity in a country caught up in civil war for eight years.
Earlier Thursday, the UN envoy to Bangui, Mankeur Ndiaye, called on the global body's Security Council to agree a "substantial increase" in peacekeeping operations.
UN troops also need "greater mobility", he added, also highlighting serious desertion from the Central African security forces since December.
In short, "we need a strategy to adapt the mandate", Ndiaye said during a videoconference of the Council organised by the African members after a request from the CAR government.
CAR foreign minister Sylvie Baipo-Temon asked the Security Council to lift an embargo on heavy weapons exports to the country.
China and Russia back the request, but western countries fear such weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
On January 13, the rebels launched two simultaneous attacks on Bangui but were rebuffed by the UN's existing MINUSCA mission, which has been present in the country since 2014.
"Since the thwarted offensive of the 13th, there haven't been any other attacks, just incidents linked to the curfew," said lieutenant-colonel Abdoulaziz Fall, one of the MINUSCA spokesmen.
Ndiaye did not specify the number of additional peacekeepers wanted on top of the roughly 12,000 MINUSCA soldiers already present – one of the largest and most costly UN operations in the world.
A source familiar with the matter said MINUSCA would like 3,000 extra peacekeepers plus drones, attack helicopters and even special forces.
MINUSCA has lost seven peacekeepers – a very heavy toll – since the rebels stepped up attacks in December.
Attacks on supply convoys by militia groups and their political allies, including former president Francois Bozize, are risking supplies of food, medicine and resources for services such as hospitals, said Vladimir Monteiro, another MINUSCA spokesman.
The price of some basic commodities has increased by at least 50 percent in some places.
Touadera's government controls only about one-third of the former French colony, with militia groups that emerged from a conflict in 2013 controlling the remainder of the territory.
CAR prosecutors have launched an investigation into former president Bozize, accused by the government of plotting a coup with the help of armed groups ahead of the elections.
"The perpetrators... of these unforgettable crimes against the people of CAR will be found, arrested and brought before the competent courts," Touadera said on Monday in his first speech since his reelection, also calling for national reconciliation.
Bozize, who denies the allegations, came to power in a coup in 2003 before being overthrown in 2013, after which the country slid into sectarian conflict.